This past weekend marked World Cancer Day, a day to recognize the approximately 32 million survivors globally, send support to those who have lost loved ones to this disease, and a time to think about my own diagnosis ten years ago this year.
When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of 26, a cancer diagnosis was the furthest thing from my mind. No signs or symptoms were telling me anything was wrong, just a standing annual appointment with a new gynecologist that I had debated canceling because I was busy. Little did I know at the time the impact that this appointment would have on the rest of my life.
When this doctor took an extra step to perform a neck check as part of the routine exam and detected a nodule on the right side of my thyroid, I was surprised, but I wasn’t immediately alarmed. I knew they could be common as you get older, and my grandmother, who was in her mid-80s at the time, was under surveillance for a thyroid nodule discovered later in life. I used to take her to yearly thyroid ultrasound appointments, but no changes were ever noted. I assumed the same would be said of my nodule.
I left the doctor’s appointment that day with what felt like marching orders. I had scripts to go for blood work, a neck ultrasound, and was advised to see an endocrinologist for a consultation. One by one, I made the appointments, followed through on the recommendations, and started to grow more alarmed with each passing day. It was somewhere between my state of shock and concern that I searched on Google (which I had been advised not to do). I thought it was time I learned a little more about the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of my neck that was wreaking havoc on my life. But the more I Googled, the more I grimaced at what I read—horror stories from patients just like me.
It was at that moment I decided that I needed to become my own advocate and that if I were so fortunate to have a good outcome, I would share my story and hopefully have it inspire other young patients. In April 2013, I was officially diagnosed with thyroid cancer, a month after my gynecologist sent me for blood work, an ultrasound, and I saw an endocrinologist who recommended I have a Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) biopsy, which confirmed I had papillary thyroid carcinoma. And just two months later (after tons of research on my end), I underwent a total thyroidectomy.
My experience with thyroid cancer taught me the importance of self-advocacy, a passion I now share with others in my professional life. It also showed me how important early detection and preventative care are, as who knows when my thyroid cancer would have been discovered, if I had canceled that appointment that day.
Thank you to everyone who has been on this journey with me for the last decade and supported my little space here on the Internet. I’m honored to share my story with so many people, and I hope my awareness efforts help others get the care they need.